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Absent but Accounted for: A New Approach to the Copper Scroll

  • Steven Weitzman (a1)

Like so much of early Jewish literature, the strange Dead Sea scroll known as the Copper Scroll (3Q15) remains suspended somewhere between reality and fantasy. Even before scholars had fully unrolled its copper plates in 1956, they were able to discern that it recorded a list of treasures, but there soon broke out a dispute over whether this treasure was real or not. Some scholars felt that the treasure was too large to be real and that it was a figment of its author's imagination. They sought the origins of the scroll in ancient Jewish legend. Others believed the treasure to be quite plausible, probably connected to the Temple in some way. The scroll itself, however, revealed nothing that might settle the issue in one direction or the other. In what follows, I wish to explore a way beyond this impasse, not resolving whether the treasure was real or not, but suggesting how it could be both at the same time. Such a claim will seem contradictory, but it is my hope over the course of this essay not just to establish the possibility of such a position but to demonstrate that such a reading is actually more consistent with the evidence we have than any reading that imposes an either/or choice between reading the treasure as fictional or genuine.

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Stephen Goranson , “Sectarianism, Geography and the Copper Scroll,” JJS 43 [1992] 282–87)

Ernest-Marie Laperrousaz , “Remarques sur l’origine des rouleaux de cuivre découverts dans la grotte 3 de Qumran,” RHR 159 [1961] 157–72

Marshall Sahlins , Historical Metaphors and Mythical Realities (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1981)

Peter Bietenholz , Historia and Fabula: Myths and Legends in Historical Thought from Antiquity to the Modern Age (Leiden: Brill, 1994)

Richard Hamilton , Treasure Map: A Guide to the Delian Inscriptions (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000)

Alan Boegehold , “The Establishment of a Central Archive in Athens,” AJA 76 (1972) 2330

Carolyn Higbie , The Lindian Chronicle and the Greek Creation of their Past (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003)

Tullia Linders , “Inscriptions and Orality,” SO 67 (1992) 2740

Cyril Mango , Michael Vickers , and E.D. Francis , “The Palace of Lausus at Constantinople and its Collection of Ancient Statues,” Journal of the History of Collecting 4 (1992) 8998

Noah Greenfield and Steven Fine , “‘Remembered for Praise’: Some Ancient Sources on Benefaction in Herod's Temple,” Images 2 (2008): 166–71

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Harvard Theological Review
  • ISSN: 0017-8160
  • EISSN: 1475-4517
  • URL: /core/journals/harvard-theological-review
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